Africa Church: World Reviews

When Charity Destroys Dignity

Overcoming unhealthy dependency in the Christian Movement. Glenn J. Schwartz.

This is one of the books that I reckon should be read by everyone who has an involvement in cross-cultural mission work. The book is composed of a series of video scripts and some other articles and at times it would be improved by some judicious editing to knit it into a more cohesive whole, but this is a minor gripe.

The basic premise is that many churches in the developing world show an unhealthy dependency on funds and resources from the west and that the influx of dollars and pounds can seriously stifle, if not kill off, local initiative and ownership of projects. Well intentioned and sometimes sacrificial giving in the West can actually have the opposite effect of what was intended – destroying local projects rather than supporting them. The case is well made and illustrated with lots of telling examples. There is also an excellent section describing how church bodies in the developing world can pull out of an unhealthy dependency on outside resources. The section on how Westerners can fulfil their Christian duty of giving to the poor, while avoiding creating dependency is less helpful, but there is still much food for thought. There is also an excellent section on the short term mission trips which deserves to be widely read.

The book is not available from Amazon in the UK, but you can order it from here. Search for either the book title or the author to find it. In the US it can be ordered from here. Unusually for me, I’ve not kept this book, I’ve given it to my supervisor to make sure that he reads it – I’ll just have to buy another copy (please don’t tell Sue).

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4 replies on “When Charity Destroys Dignity”

If Schwartz is not helpful on “how Westerners can fulfil their Christian duty of giving to the poor, while avoiding creating dependency”, can you offer some more helpful insights on this issue?

Can you summarise what he says about short terms missions trips? I’m sure they can help inspire the people who go, but do they do more harm than good to the people they go to?

I wouldn’t say that his is not helpful on how Westerners can avoid creating dependency. He has some good things to say, but this isn’t the best section of the book. Unfortunately, I don’t have much to add myself. One of the reasons I read his book is that I’m increasingly concerned about this issue in the Bible translation world. One of Schwarz suggestions was that Western Christians can avoid causing dependency in churches by giving money to ministries such as Bible translation. I’m worried that this might just be shifting the problem onto someone else.

The basic premis of the short term mission section is that short termers must realise that their main role on any trip is to learn. And they should be very, very careful about they way they make any material contributions to developing country churches. There is a lot more, but as I mentioned in the brief review, I gave my copy of the book away and I can’t remember all of the details.

Thanks, Eddie. One reason I became a Bible translator is that I wanted to empower national Christians. One reason why I am not continuing as one, after the end of my current project which is winding down, is my scepticism over the need for large scale foreign involvement – and my conviction that the greater need for mission at the moment is here in England, even in my own suburban village.

Though I’ve not come to the same conclusions about my personal involvement, I fully agree with what you are saying Peter.

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